Provo • Before news broke last week that he was the focus of an improper benefits probe at BYU, Duane Busby was relatively unknown outside the school’s football program.
Some hardcore BYU football fans probably knew Busby had been employed by the school since 1996 and became the director of football operations in 2001. But to most he was even more anonymous than the receivers or running backs coach.
Busby “retired” on March 24, according to a school news release.
Inside the program, the balding, middle-aged, unassuming man with a soft voice and almost puppy-like demeanor was highly regarded, so much so that when coach Bronco Mendenhall was asked about Busby’s abrupt resignation two days after it was announced, he became emotional in discussing the departure.
“You don’t replace him,” Mendenhall said at the time. “He is a personal friend, trusted adviser [and] essential to our success over the last nine years. … Duane is understated, so he asked me specifically not to make a big deal about it. So that’s as big [of] a deal as I can make it. But I will miss him.”
After the news broke last week via sports radio station 1280 AM that Busby allegedly provided heavily discounted or rent-free housing to selected players in addition to free meals and other gifts or benefits deemed impermissible by the NCAA, most former BYU players and coaches who spoke to The Salt Lake Tribune rushed to his defense.
“In my mind, Duane Busby is BYU football,” said former tight end Richard Wilson. “He kept that program running the whole time he was there, doing all the things he was doing behind the scenes.”
Wilson, who was not a star, said Busby tried to treat all players equally, contradicting reports that Busby favored high-profile, offensive players. However, Wilson acknowledged that Busby went out of his way to help non-LDS players get adjusted to the school, its strict honor code, and the unique culture of Provo.
“Duane cared about everybody, tried to take care of everybody,” Wilson said. “He helped anybody who needed help.”
In a piece he wrote for the BYU fan website lawlessrepublic.com, former BYU linebacker Derik Stevenson detailed how he called Busby, and not then-head coach LaVell Edwards, when he landed in jailed in 1997. Stevenson wrote that the only thing Busby is guilty of is “having a big heart and doing all in his power to help the kids that he’s grown to love.”
Not much is known about Busby’s personal life, because “he really didn’t have one,” according to Wilson, who noted that “BYU football and helping others 24 hours a day,” were his only concerns.
Busby attended Northern Arizona University and graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in English in 1984. He served as an assistant to Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt and was also the managing editor of the Wickenburg (Ariz.) Sun newspaper. He was an equipment manager and video coordinator at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, for five years and also taught at nearby Madison High, where he was an assistant football coach.
Busby has never married and has no children. He lived modestly and drove an older model automobile, several players said.
“He’s the type of person that would take the jacket off his back to give it to somebody, or buy them a meal. He was just a very giving guy in terms of just being kind,” said Jason Kaufusi, recently hired as an assistant coach at Weber State after serving as a BYU graduate assistant in 2012 and an academic adviser in 2013.
But the question remains: Did Busby carry that kind-heartedness too far, past the limits of NCAA regulations?
School officials have remained mum on the matter, saying only that they are aware of the allegations and have been conducting a “thorough review.”
A former defensive player who graduated in 2012 and wished to remain anonymous said Busby’s generosity “was something everybody on the team knew about” and that every year “a handful of guys gravitated” to him.
“Players lived with him, I know that,” said the player.
Busby has seemingly disappeared since BYU announced his retirement on March 24; several players who were close to him said his cellphone number didn’t work the next day, and that he hasn’t reached out to anyone in two months.
“He just up and left out of nowhere,” said defensive tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna, who agreed with Wilson that Busby was easily the most-liked football staff member.
Duane Busby file
• Hired by former BYU football coach LaVell Edwards in 1996, served as director of football operations since 2001.
• Graduated from Arizona State University in 1984 and worked as a newspaper editor, high school teacher, video coordinator and assistant football coach before joining BYU staff.